I don’t often eat brunch in restaurants. As a thrifty person who is perhaps unhealthily devoted to baking at home, I have neither the money nor the calories to spare for mediocre pancakes. The big draw at a restaurant brunch for me is hash browns or homefries, since I don’t usually get motivated enough to make breakfast potatoes myself. Now that I’ve made pommes de terre macaire, however, I might get into the habit.
This is supposed to be a crisp brown disk that slips right out of the pan, but I had gone cast-iron instead of nonstick and found that my bottom crust had to be chipped out of the skillet. (But it was worth the work—delicious!) What my cake lacked in good looks, it made up for in taste and ease of preparation. Since this recipe uses pre-baked potatoes, you could have them ready to go the night before, leaving little for you to do in the morning besides preheating the oven and grating some nutmeg. (I’m not sure Jacques Pepin would endorse this overnight potato aging, but I’m fairly confident the resulting gâteau would still taste mighty fine, even if it had to stay in the oven a few minutes longer.)
As you can see, we ate potatoes macaire with a green salad and a leek vinaigrette, but they would play just as well with any egg dish.
Pommes de Terre Macaire
Adapted from "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home"
-serves 6 to 8, according to recipe; 2 adults and 1 baby, according to my experience (!)-
- 3 pounds russet (Idaho) potatoes (about 5 large potatoes)
- 3 tbs canola oil
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)
- 2/3 cup grated Gruyère or 1/3 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
Bake the potatoes until done. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh (you can discard the skins or save them to make a yummy snack—scroll down).
Heat the oil and butter in a 10-inch ovenproof sauté pan, preferably nonstick. (I used a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and wish I had used my 10-inch nonstick skillet. I didn’t believe all the potato would fit in there, but it would have.) When hot, spread the potatoes in the pan and sprinkle on the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Immediately begin turning the potato pieces with a wooden spoon to thoroughly mix in the fat and seasonings.
Flatten the potatoes to a smooth, solid layer, filling the entire pan; then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Near the end of the cooking time, shake and rotate the pan quickly in a clockwise motion—turning it by the handle—to loosen the potato cake from the sides and bottom of the pan. (Ha! It will be a long time before I pull off this kind of maneuver. But it’s fun to try.) You should be able to see that the sides of the layer are browning nicely.
Put the skillet in the hot oven and bake for 15 minutes or so, until the top is crusty and lightly colored. Remove the hot pan carefully from the oven and let it sit 30 seconds or so, then immediately cover it with the serving platter and invert to un-mold.
Variation: Pommes de Terre Byron (which I recommend). When the potatoes are done—after unmolding if possible, but while they are still in the skillet, if unmolding is not going to happen for you—turn on the broiler. Spread the top of the potatoes with the crème fraîche or sour cream and sprinkle evenly with the grated cheese. Broil 4 or 5 inches from the heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling.